The recent rally in equity markets has slowed as invetors cash in profits, while there are also worries about high valuations

Hong Kong (AFP) - Asian markets fell on Tuesday following a tepid lead from Wall Street, while investors await movement on stalled US tax cuts with fears growing that the reform push could come off the rails.

After weeks of gains fuelled by strong earnings and optimism about the global economy, world markets have been tempered in recent days as dealers cash out and valuations sit unnervingly high.

In Washington, Republican lawmakers are struggling to agree a tax overhaul deal with senators and representatives providing differing plans, leading to worries the reforms could collapse in a similar way to the Obamacare repeal.

“Tax looks to be getting bogged down in a manner we saw with the attempt to repeal Obamacare and a manner I didn’t expect,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

“Passage of a bill will be a big boon for markets. But there remains much wood to chop it seems.”

World markets had surged on hopes for lower taxes when Donald Trump was elected US president a year ago.

Hong Kong ended 0.1 percent off and Shanghai retreated 0.5 percent following the release of soft data on Chinese retail sales, factory output and investment.

Sydney shed 0.9 percent, Singapore was off 0.5 percent and Seoul shed 0.2 percent.

Tokyo’s Nikkei ended slightly lower, giving up morning gains and extending a sell-off to five straight days. The index had hit a quarter-of-a-century high on Wednesday.

In early European trade London and Frankfurt each rose 0.2 percent while Paris added 0.1 percent.

- Venezuela woes -

On currency markets the pound remained under pressure but was stable after Monday’s sell-off that was sparked by concerns over British Prime Minister Theresa May’s political future as reports said dozens of her ruling Conservative Party MPs were backing a move to oust her.

May’s troubles come as London faces pressure to meet a two-week deadline set Friday by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier for a deal on exit terms ahead of a December EU summit.

“Suffice to say that in the absence of progress within UK political circles this week and next toward offering up a higher Brexit divorce bill, sterling could be down another five percent or more by month end,” said Ray Attrill, head of forex strategy at National Australia Bank.

“If instead Mrs May does somehow manage to pull a proverbial rabbit out of the hat, it will be five percent or more stronger. The pound will be a very sharp toy in the coming few weeks,” he said in a commentary.

The euro was boosted by news that the eurzone’s biggest economy Germany expanded more than expected in the third quarter.

Standard & Poor’s declared Venezuela in “selective default” Monday after it failed to make $200 million in payments on its global bonds, becoming the first credit ratings agency to do so.

The agency said it acted after a 30-day grace period had passed on payments on two bonds by the struggling country.

Traders will be keeping an eye on a European Central Bank conference Tuesday that will see speeches by Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen, ECB head Mario Draghi and Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

The US will also release key inflation and retail sales figures later in the week, providing markets with more clues about the Fed’s plans for raising interest rates.

- Key figures around 0820 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: FLAT at 22,380.01 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 29,152.12 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3429.55 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,527.25

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3101 from $1.3116 at 2200 GMT

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1691 from $1.1665

Dollar/yen: UP at 113.70 yen from 113.63 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 15 cents at $56.61 a barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN 23 cents at $62.93

New York - DOW: UP 0.1 percent at 23,439.55 (close)